Staff at new Edmonton supervised consumption site surprised by demand

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WATCH ABOVE: This was the first weekend for Edmonton's first supervised injection site. Staff tell Fletcher Kent there were 59 unique visits.

Edmonton’s first supervised injection location opened on Friday at Boyle Street Community Services and, as of 8 a.m. Monday, had seen 59 unique visitors.

“That’s 59 different people and quite a few with multiple visits,” Supervised Consumption Services director Erica Schoen explained.

READ MORE: Edmonton city council moving ahead with safe injection services

She said the first few days have gone really well and was a little surprised by the number of visits during the site’s inaugural weekend.

“I thought it might start off a bit slow to begin with,” Schoen said.

“Prior to this, we do have a needle exchange. Before, we were giving out supplies and asking people, unfortunately, to go out into the community. We weren’t able to provide them the on-site service.

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“So we thought just because people were used to being sent off, it would be a bit slower than it was, but we were actually very busy our first morning. I think by 11 a.m. our first day, we had 25 visits, which was actually surprising.”

READ MORE: Edmonton’s first safe injection location set to open 

There was one overdose over the weekend. EMS was called and the person was saved.

“We weren’t expecting that our first morning,” Schoen said. “It makes it feel relieved… I say again and again, we’ve lost a lot of people that we really care about — these are people who are part of the community. So it’s a relief we were able to save a life already this early in the game.”

Four supervised injection sites were approved for Edmonton — three in inner-city neighbourhoods and one at the Royal Alexandra Hospital. The Royal Alex service will be open to patients only.

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The services are intended to give users — who must be at least 16 years old — a safer place to inject drugs, but they will also house a number of other services to deal with the root cause of their drug use.

READ MORE: Supervised-injection service locations for drug users announced in Edmonton

Each location is staffed with a registered nurse, social worker/addiction counsellor and peer support worker.

“One of the benefits of this service, as well — being in a controlled environment — we’re able to find out more about medical history of people, find out the drugs they’re planning on using… any recent history of overdose,” Schoen said.

“We’re able to offer them a clean environment, a calm environment, where people are treated with respect — so we’re able to open the doors to a lot of different conversations.

“I’ve actually been really pleased already; there have been conversations about treatment, we have conversations about people using less, we’ve done some wound care — these are all the things that are often missed in terms of harm reduction and it’s nice to see it’s already happening just in the first few days.”

Watch below: Edmonton’s first supervised injection site opens Friday at Boyle Street Community Services

Click to play video 'Edmonton’s first safe injection site set to open Friday at Boyle Street Community Services' Edmonton’s first safe injection site set to open Friday at Boyle Street Community Services
Edmonton’s first safe injection site set to open Friday at Boyle Street Community Services

Schoen said the facility means clients are using clean supplies, injecting indoors, washing their hands, not sharing needles and disposing of them safely.

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“We’ve had a lot of appreciation that people are being treated with respect, that it’s a non-judgmental environment and that somebody cares for their lives.”

Three more supervised consumption sites are scheduled to open in the next few months at three other Edmonton locations.

“We’re are looking to open the George Spady site within the next two to three weeks and then Boyle McCauley, I believe, will be early summer due to construction issues,” she said. “The Royal Alex Hospital is our fourth site. It’s through Alberta Health Services and it’s for in-patient only. I believe they’re opening in the first week of April.”

Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson will provide more information on the hospital location on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Health Canada approves safe injection sites in Edmonton, Lethbridge

In October 2017, Health Canada approved supervised injection sites for opioid drugs in Edmonton and Lethbridge.

Alberta Associate Health Minister Brandy Payne said the decision will help reduce a growing number of fatal drug overdoses and the spread of diseases such as HIV.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information has said data from Alberta suggests emergency room visits related to heroin and synthetic opioid overdoses spiked almost tenfold in the last five years.

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— With files from Global’s Slav Kornik and 630 CHED